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3 Godfathers is a 1948 Christmas Western film, based on the 1919 novelette The Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne. It was directed by John Ford, produced by his production company Argosy Films and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on December 1, 1948.

Plot

Cattle rustlers Robert Hightower (John Wayne), Pedro "Pete" Rocafuerte (Pedro Armendáriz), and William Kearney (Harry Carey, Jr.) rob a bank in Welcome, Arizona, but William is shot in the shoulder and they have to flee into the desert, pursued by a posse led by Sheriff Buck Sweet (Ward Bond), who shoots a hole in their water bag (that they do not notice until after all the water has leaked out). They eventually lose their horses in a desert sandstorm and end up walking. Desperate for water, they head for a water hole, which has, however, been destroyed by the misguided efforts of a bumbling tenderfoot, who then chased after his livestock and did not return.

In a covered wagon left nearby lies the man's wife (Sheriff Sweet's niece), who is about to give birth. With the trio's help, she has a boy, whom she names Robert William Pedro after her benefactors. Before dying, she extracts a promise from them that they will take care of him. Moved, they try to keep their promise despite the acute lack of water.

William is certain a higher power guided them there and likens their situation to the Three Wise Men finding Jesus in a manger. He convinces Robert and Pete to head for New Jerusalem, which lies across a wide expanse of desert. While crossing a salt flat, William dies; later, Pete falls and breaks his leg. He asks Robert to leave him his pistol, for "protection from coyotes." As Robert walks away, he hears a single gunshot.

Finally at the end of his strength, Robert nearly loses hope, but in his delirium, the ghosts of his two friends appear and refuse to let him give up. He contemptuously tosses away the woman's Bible, then goes back for it and reads a passage telling of the appearance of a donkey and a colt. Just then, the animals actually show up. With their help, he finally reaches New Jerusalem and enters a cantina where people are singing Christmas carols (it being Christmas or Christmas Eve), and then collapses just as Sheriff Sweet catches up with him.

Robert is arrested, but because of his heroism and refusal to give up custody of his godson to the Sweets (whom he has now befriended), he is viewed by the townspeople as a hero even before the trial comes to its conclusion. In the end, he is sentenced to the minimum of a year and a day and, as he leaves to serve it with a promise to return, he is given a rousing farewell by the entire town.

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